r e a d i n g r o o m

about : me : contact : i read : others read : reviews of books

archives: 2006: jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec 2005: jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec : 2004: jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec : 2003: jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec : 2002: jan feb mar apr may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec : 2001: may jun jul aug sep oct nov dec

what i read in: 2006 : 2005 : 2004 : 2003 : 2002 : 2001 : 2000 : 1999 : 1998 : 1997 : 1996

Book sections @ papers
Atlanta Journal-Const.
Austin Chronicle
Boston Globe
Charlotte Observer
Chicago Sun-Times

Miami Herald
Philly Daily News
Seattle Times
SF Gate


bravura (bruh-VYOOR-uh, -VOOR-) noun, plural bravuras, bravure

1. A musical piece or performance involving great skill and a display
of flair and brilliant style.

2. A display of spirit, daring, or boldness.


Marked by display of flair, spirit, style, boldness, etc.

[From Italian bravura (bravery), from Latin barbarus, from Greek barbaros (barbarous).]

5.31 Walt Whitman
5.28 Walker Percy
5.27 Rachel Carson & John Cheever
udoriferous (soo-duh-RIF-uhr-rus) adjective

Sweaty or sweat producing.

[From Late Latin sudorifer, from Latin sudor sweat, from sudare (to sweat), ultimately from Indo-European root sweid- (to sweat) that also resulted in words sweat and exude.]

5.25 Ralph Waldo Emerson & Raymond Carver
2.24 Bob Dylan & Michael Chabon
rampallion (ram-PAL-yuhn) noun, also rampallian

A ruffian or scoundrel.

[Of unknown origin.]

In Shakespeare's Henry IV, Falstaff exclaims, "Away, you scullion!
you rampallion! You fustilarian! I'll tickle your catastrophe."
A scullion is a kitchen servant or one who does menial work. Fustilarian is a synonym of yesterday's term fustilugs (a fat and slovenly person).

5.23 Margaret Wise Brown & Carolus Linnaeus
5.22 Mary Cassatt, Arthur Conan Doyle, & Harvey Milk
5.20 Honoré de Balzac
5.19 Nora Ephron & Malcolm X
5.18 Barbara Goldsmith

Rubenesque (roo-buh-NESK) adjective

Full-figured; rounded; voluptuous,

[After Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) known for depiction of plump female figures in his paintings.]

5.16 Adrienne Rich
5.15 Katherine Anne Porter
5.12 Daphne du Maurier & Bruce Chatwin
persiflage (PUR-sih-flazh) noun

Light-hearted or flippant treatment of a subject; banter.

[From French persiflage, from persifler (to banter), from per-
(thoroughly) + siffler (to whistle or hiss), from Old French, from Late Latin sifilare, an alteration of Latin sibilare (to hiss).]

provender (PROV-uhn-duhr) noun

1. Dry food used as livestock feed.

2. Food or provisions.

[From Middle English provendre, from Old French, alteration of provende, from Medieval Latin provenda, alteration of praebenda. Ultimately from Indo-European root ghebh- (to give or receive) that gave us give, debt, duty, habit, endeavor, able, inhibit, and malady.]

5.12 Rosellen Brown
bindlestiff (BIN-dl-stif) noun

A hobo who carries a bundle of bedding and other possessions.

[From English bindle (bundle) + stiff (tramp). Ultimately from Indo-European root bhendh- (to bind), that is also the source of such words as bandanna, band, bond, and bundle.]

5.11 Mari Sandoz
5.9.1960 USFDA approved first birth control pill
delitescent (del-i-TES-uhnt) adjective

Hidden; latent.

[From Latin delitescent-, stem of delitescens, present participle of delitescere (to hide away).]

5.8 Gary Snyder
5.6 Randall Jarrell
5.5 Karl Marx
gorgonize or gorgonise (GOR-guh-nyz) verb tr.

To paralyze, petrify, or hypnotize.

[After Gorgon, any of the three monstrous sisters Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa in Greek mythology, who had snakes for hair. They turned into stone anyone who looked into their eyes.]

mammon (MAM-uhn) noun

1. Wealth; money.

2. The personification of wealth and of inordinate desire for it;
the material wealth considered having an evil influence.

[From Middle English, from Late Latin mammona, from Greek mammonas, from Aramaic mamona (riches). Mammon was personified as a false god in the New Testament.]

5.3 May Sarton
5.2 Catherine the Great
5.1 Bobbie Ann Mason & Romaine Brooks








Monday, May 31, 2005
holiday reading

Texas has a new poet laureate. It's shameful that it's name-only. Alan Birkelbach has no duties and no salary.

There are fewer translations in the world today. It's all about money, so they say. It just costs too much.

Sex differences in reading habits: It's still no surprise that men only read things written by other men.

Mermaid chair turned out better than I thought. The main character falls for a Benedictine monk. She becomes estranged from her husband. She rediscovers herself and begins painting again. Her mother cuts off more fingers. A deep dark secret is revealed. I won't tell the rest. Don't want to spoil it for anyone.

Then I read A country practice: scenes from the veterinary life. It follows three vets working in New Hampshire. One actually is a vet, a Vietnam vet. It's his practice. And then there's Roger, the horseman. They hire a recent vet school grad, Erika. The author follows all three on their rounds and writes an accurate story of their work lives. I learned a bit about bovine uterine palpitation, as well as the gender politics in the profession.

I bought Selected stories of Eudora Welty at some point over the holiday weekend. I've misplaced another book by Welty, and am still bothered by that. Anyway, Selected's introduction was written by Katherine Anne Porter, whose work I have not read, either. Her intro didn't do Welty justice. I can't say that I get Welty's stories, either. Sometimes they make some sense. But then other times, like with "The Key" about a deaf couple at a train station to whom a key appears, the stories try my patience. I'm about a quarter of the way through the collection.

Then there's the new Mary Wollstonecraft bio by Lyndall Gordon that appears quite interesting.

Friday, May 27, 2005
I'll have ice with my mermaid

Ice queen was wonderful. There was even a bit of library intrigue. Our narrator, whose name we never learn, moves from Jersey to Florida after her grandmother, for whom she cared, died. She gets a new job at a library and sneaks peaks at patron records to see what they read; her library is not automated and they keep this information written on cards. She's struck by lightening and attends a lightening strike support group. She befriends Renny who was struck while playing golf. He wears gloves that hide his hands because his watch and ring melted into his skin; the sight of which disturbs him, but our narrator finds beautiful. Then there's Lazarus Jones, an icon among the struck-by-lightening crowd, who died when struck, but then came back to life after 45 minutes. Our narrator tracks him down and they become lovers. But, that requires some inventiveness on their part as Lazarus is very hot both physically and physiologically. He breathes fire and makes spoons spin because of the magnetism within his body. And then, there's the narrator's relationship with her brother, who asked her to move to the swamp state to be nearer him. The writing was lovely to slip inside. But now, I hate that I have no more Hoffman to read. It's a travesty. I'll have to wait at least another year or two for something else of hers to come out.

In the meantime, I started The mermaid chair. I wonder whether I'll like it. The writing is no problem at all, I'm just not sure that the story appeals to me. A forty-something discontent mother and wife--and she's an artist, too--gets involved with a monk. At least, that's what I gather so far. Really, the only thing that happened is that the character's mother--I've forgotten either of their names--cut off her index finger with a cleaver, on purpose. The book is set on an island off South Carolina's coast, likely somewhere near Charleston. On the island is the abbey. Our character's mother is their cook. The mother is just a bit of a freak when it comes to religion. That's it so far.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005
librarians in fiction & other things

The effects of light was deeper than I expected. The character deals with several philosophical issues relating to art and the world in general. I look forward to reading more of Beverly-Whittemore's work.

I haven't started it yet, but I brought Alice Hoffman's latest, The ice queen, along so that I could crack its spine--in a good way, of course--at lunch. And, Super Lovely is that her main character is a Librarian. However, I cannot agree with the reviewer's assessment that librarians are "cold-hearted loners with a lifelong fascination with death." The loner part, maybe. But coldhearted and passionate about the macabre? No way.

There's a new title out that food writers will snarf up: Will write for food: The complete guide to writing cookbooks, restaurant reviews, articles, memoir, fiction, and more...

Tuesday, May 24, 2005
the trouble with thirteen

Finished up This life she's chosen: Stories. It was a lovely collection, and I could easily read them again. It's amazing the difference that a font makes because I started The effects of light last night, and the text seems clunky; reading it is odious, and I think it's almost completely because of the horrid font. Admittedly, the cover drew me to the book, and the story seemed intriguing. There's a noticeable difference between Lunstrum's stories and Beverly-Whittemore's book. I can't describe it though. It's like being able to read between the lines somehow.

The effects of light is the story of two sisters. One story occurs presently, and the other from the past. Myla and Pru are daughters of a college professor. They live in Portland, Or. Their mother is dead. A woman called Ruth, takes photos of them beginning when Pru was 3 or 4 until they were teenagers, I assume---but that hasn't been established yet. There was a scandal, perhaps something about child pornography. Fast forward at least thirteen years and Myla goes by the name Kate Scott. She teaches art history at a small, east-coast college. Then she receives a strange package in the mail from a Portland attorney. That, coupled with her beau giving a lecture about the photos of she and her sister (he's unaware of her identity) sends her on a drinking binge. Now she's in Portland and opened the first (of several according to the book's flyleaf) package which contained her father's notebook; he and Pru have been dead for several years, possibly thirteen. Otherwise, the writing is good. The story moves along and the character's voices alternate by chapter, or maybe even within each chapter; it's hard to tell this early on in the book.

Monday, May 23, 2005
revving up old-time bookworms

Silas House makes you care about his characters. Coal tattoo is about two sisters. Easter is church-going and modest, and Anneth is the younger sister who likes to drink, smoke, and hang out in honky-tonks. Mostly the story is about their lives and struggles; their relationships with men, and each other. The writing is beautiful and there are several lovely turns of phrase. Having it end was sad.

Sarah Vowell, too, makes you kind of care about the people whom she writes about. Assassination vacation brings the reader along on a trip exploring the deaths (and lives) of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. There are occasional asides about Emma Goldman and William H. Seward (of Seward's Folly). I learned that Vowell's favorite president is Lincoln, and that despite it's design flaws, she loves the Lincoln Memorial. Besides her brilliant writing, entertaining voice, and quirky perspective, the book is filled with so much information that not to learn something from reading it is impossible. For example, McKinley was the first president to throw a baseball at opening day and Garfield was a bookworm; he'd rather be reading than anything else. Vowell's research is extensive; she traces the origins of madness in the psyches of each assassin. Another thing: Like me, Vowell doesn't like contemporary christian music, she prefers old-time gospel. The reader learns this when Vowell attends a sunrise Easter service at the Lincoln Memorial at which she expects a terrorist attack. The book was fascinating, and I frequently quizzed Ian by asking "Did you know that..." Despite the fact that all my fathers (biological, step, and in-law) are conservative Republicans, (two are men of the cloth) I'm giving copies of the book to two of them for Father's Day. They love history (the step does too, but mostly CW) and can probably overlook Vowell's liberal musings and still appreciate the book for all its wonderful content.

This life she's chosen: Stories is a beautiful book. The cover is lovely. Inside, the margins are wide. The font is so nice that it makes me want to lick each page, or pat it lovingly, tenderly. I could maybe even rip out a page or two, fold it into an origami crane, and tuck it inside my bosom; something to withdraw later in the day to refresh my spirits when the rain gets me down. The stories are lovely too, and Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum's writing is clean, crisp, and a marvelous thing to behold. I'm enjoying the book. The theme I detect is one of differentiation between mothers and daughters, and sometimes, sons. But as far as understanding the stories, I cannot claim to do that. I fear, that they are far too subtle for the likes of me. I'm just not getting it, somehow. I need someone to explain, or interpret, each story's meaning. The title story, "This Life She's Chosen," was the one I remember the most for its descriptions of food, though those appear in several other stories, most notably in one about two sisters; one is an anorexic. They're not particularly happy stories, either. They're just there...just what they are. And, that's enough for me.

This summer is the first that we've kept the air conditioning off. Usually my books live in a strictly controlled climate. But now, I notice, they are wilting and warping in the moist, warm air. I hope the damage is not irreparable, but I have my doubts. Perhaps this experiment, no matter how much I love the fresh air and listening to all the natural (but not unnatural sounds like my forty-something year old neighbor--and father of three, two of whom are out of high school--revving the engine on his hot rod and then burning rubber as he peels out of the neighborhood like he's a pimple-faced sixteen year old) sounds of birds and the breeze, will not be repeated.

Then, here's Tayari's article about the silence still surrounding the Atlanta child murders of the early 1980s.

More news about Penguin's seventieth anniversary: They're shunning black writers.

An unpublished play by Jack Kerouac unearthed in a Jersey warehouse.

Seventy-fourth annual Calfiornia Book Award winners announced; but that's old news.

Harper Lee honored by LA Public Library; makes rare appearance

Thursday, May 20, 2005
class me across the dancehall, baby

Several good things I'm reading this morning. First, the NYT has a series on class in America. I've read all the articles, and I am most ambivalent about the one appearing in this morning's paper. It's the story of a woman my age who grew up in a holler and survived several months of foster care before being taken in by a middle-class lawyer who was her father's cousin. The article itself is a good read and conveys lots of pertinent information. What I'm opposed to is why Appalachia and how they're depicting her. Is it surprising that this region is featured in an article on class? It seems that when NYT covers the region, its reporters always include descriptions of how the folks speak. Cue the violins: "With her soft Appalachian accent, Ms. Justice leaves no doubt that she is a local girl, steeped in the culture of the old family cemeteries that dot the mountains here in East Kentucky. "I grew up in a holler, I surely did," she tells jurors as she lays out the boundary conflict."

Then I looked at a Guardian story about literary reputations and whose books are considered important after the writer dies. I'm slightly less coherent today than normal because I listened to a Cheap Trick song while dressing this morning; naturally, that throws me off and my sentence construction and ability to compose topic sentences diminishes. Basically, the article discusses how obscure dead writers are so much more fun that well-known dead writers.

Blathering on, there's a writer criticizing "the state of book reviews in contemporary America." Shall I take out my stogie and take a suck to prepare myself for this? This is what he says: "Book reviews should inspire reading. They should excite, stimulate, agitate and empower readers to discover new books and avoid bad ones. They should turn you on to undiscovered authors, prompt you into finally reading the writer you have never quite got round to, and make you wonder at the world of delights that remain unread.But let's be honest. They don't, do they?" All I gathered from the article was that he was more opposed to the genres being reviewed than the content of reviews. Heck, I too grow bored when reading about topics of no interest to me.

C'mon, get happy. If that's unmanageable on your own, there's a bunch of books about how to get the party started. This article at the Philly Inquirer gives the low down on how the aching multitudes are finding books to make them feel better.

Recognized for its iconic covers, Penguin celebrates its seventieth anniversary. A story at BBC News charts the house's founding as well as its covers and authors. Apparently it was "Penguin's inspired branding that turned the company into a publishing tour-de-force."

Last night, in a fit of something, lust perhaps? curiosity most likely, I visited nerve, which I haven't done in some time. I read an essay that linked stalking with rock 'n' roll. But, the sex advice from music critics, like most all of their "sex advice from..." series, was entertaining.

Instead of reading either of the books I referenced in previous post, I started the new Anne Lamott book, Plan B: Further thoughts on faith. She's about the only person who writes about spirituality that I read. She makes it palatable. Maybe there's a consensus that she focused so much on bush. When I wrote of my concerns to a friend who reads Lamott, she said that her other friends had the same complaint about too many bush-droppings in the book.

And while searching for other reviews to the book, I found blog after blog after blog entry that expressed the same sentiment. I'm reading about spirituality and loving one another and all that...okay, tripe was the first word that came to mind, but I really don't feel that way about it; those level thoughts of mine are essentially unexamined. All of a sudden, bush appears. My approach to many things in life is avoidance. I cope with his pretendership by forgetting his existence. But Lamott mentioned him so often, that it threw me out of my "peace, love, and understanding" mode and into thinking about how much the bush puppet show and regime is responsible for the decline of our country.

Regardless of all that, it's fine stuff. The first essay, "ham of god" is about the role a ham that she won at her grocery store played in god's plan for her life. Quirky, indeed. The next two essays are about a fight she had with her son, Sam and their attempts to connect with Sam's father, who was not in the boy's life for many years. Next, she writes about her relationship with her mother and dealing with mother's ashes and pocketbook. And then, there's the one about her calling to start a Sunday school for the kids. That took me about a quarter of the way through the book and that's where I left off.

And then later in the day... I came across a bit about travel writing by women at gonomad.com. Like the author, I stare at maps, haunt travel sections of bookstores, and love reading travel memoir by women. In the interest of being fair and well-rounded in my reading, I try travel memoirs by men, but rarely do they write about topics that interest me. Almost as rare is finding a man's voice/writing style that suits my tastes. I enjoy Bill Bryson. Back to the point at hand: I've read five of the ten books listed in the article.

Thursday, May 19, 2005
pouf, pouf

Hypocrite was excellent. I can't wait to read more of Gilman's work. Once again I'm faced with the chore of deciding what to read next. Too many choices make me woozy. It's either back to Coal tattoo or At work in the atomic city: Alabor and social history of Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005
touch of velvet & other stories

My new favorite writer is Susan Jane Gilman. I'm halfway through Hypocrite in a pouffy white dress: Tales of growing up groovy and clueless, and it must be the most fun book I've read all year. Her writing is right on, and she's so funny. I've laughed out loud several times, and read passages to Ian. He appreciated the "hymen for a diamond" advice that one of Gilman's former employers gave her.It seems that she was in Asheville in February and I missed seeing/hearing her. Drat! Oh well. One of the most interesting, or memorable episodes from the book is when she met Mick Jagger. She was a huge RS fan for years and, Mick was her man.She and her friend haunted the NY studio where the RS recorded one of their early eighties albums. Seems that he was impressed with her, found her charming, and said that she had the biggest titties of all the girls at the party.

The BISG foresees a flat market for new books in the following four years. It seems, there are more books published each year than people to buy them.

Oh lordy, academic historians need to learn to write better? Well, when academic history writing is described in this fashion: "narrowly focused, politically correct, jargon-clotted academic monographs that dwell on arcane issues instead of big, meaty topics like politics, diplomacy, and war," sure, they could improve upon things a bit.

It's ridiculous: The simplest things make me happy. I lost a tube of lipstick that I was particularly fond of, something that I cannot buy in this region, and whose color name I forgot, so ordering a replacement tube online was almost impossible. Then, I found it this morning. That made my day.

Monday, May 16, 2005
mystic penises, lust & tattoos

Paris review leaves the Upper East Side.

It's been a while since I've encountered a penis in a book, so finding one in Slipping into paradise, which then gives the title a whole new meaning, surprised me. And it isn't just any penis, but a mystic penis. It springs upon one on page 210: "a Sivalinga (the god Siva, in India, has a mystic penis) rock with my name (literally) on it! " For the most part, I enjoyed Slipping into paradise. There was enough variety of information included within the book that it appeals to a broad audience. Readers could always skip parts they don't like. Besides it being very thoughtful, it focused on the natural environment a great deal, which, in theory, I appreciate. But, sometimes reading about a tree or bird for more than a paragraph without having a photograph accompany the passage leaves me lost. What disappointed me was very little the author described his interactions and relationships with others. You'd think there'd be some period of adjustment, cultural adjustment, that he'd write about, but if he did so, it was far too subtle for me.

So then I bought a book called The politics of lust on Saturday.The author may be preaching to the choir, and I may not learn anything new. But, it is always good to gather information to make one's arguments more convincing and forceful. Basically, the author writes about how repressed Americans really are. We think we're all liberated about sex and our genitals, etc. but, he says that our actions do not correlate with beliefs. For example, if we were really the sexually liberated country that we pretend to be, then public nudity would not be an issue, nor would pornography, monogamy, etc. Problem is... the writing is very dry. I'm still early in the book, and John Ince sets up philosophical groundwork for understanding his arguments, which I really don't need, although I learned something new already. Something called the duty of tolerance; it's from ethical theory.

And last night I started The coal tattoo. It's good. I'm not sure that I'm in the mood for it. Silas House's writing is always a joy to read, but for some reason, the story doesn't interest me. Perhaps it is a mistake to jump so quickly back into fiction when I've been almost exclusively reading non-fiction for the better part of this year. The characters are fabulous, though, so it may be impossible to keep my distance from the story after all. This book is House's third. The first was about Clay's coming of age and finding his way in the world, well, really, in the small world of Appalachia. His second book was about Clay's grandparents; definitely a historic setting. And this third book is about Clay's mother and aunt. At least, I think that's how they go.

Friday, May 13, 2005
food lit & more

Food lit coming of age? One hopes.

A recent study shows that writers reach their peak at 50. And the average age of writers topping the best seller list: 50.5. Aaaaah, but there are those thirty-somethings who are bucking the trend.

And the day hatefully drags on. It's wretched to be inside when there's sun and warmth and trees and....the possiblity to meet the daily recommended intake of Vitamin D.

Thursday, May 12, 2005
the loneliness of not being where you think you should be

Today my horoscope reads that I should stir up lots of wicked fun to rouse myself from my rut. Activities suggested for meeting that goal are: writing a love letter to my evil twin, seeing how far I can spit a mouthful of expensive wine, and meditating naked under a waterfall, among others.

In prostitution news, johns prefer the classrooms to courtrooms.

Slipping into paradise is one of the most thoughtful books I've ever read. I'm sure that it helps that its author was a Sanskrit scholar .I stopped on the middle of page 190 last night and have another thirty-something pages to go. For the most part, the book's content is great. But, what I'm missing are people. Masson covers birds, trees, and ferns. But, chapter seven was a conversation with Sir Edmund Hillary, a person. And then he also compares New Zealand with Australia. He lists fifty important dates in NZ history, and then writes a bit about social problems that the country experiences. I found his chapter on comparing NZ to other countries in which he lived most interesting. He writes that the Germans are too cold; the British, as well as Germans, are not child-friendly; that Bali is near perfect except for their low level of medical care; Argentina's government was too instable; America's politics are too divisive and our materialism is like that of Dubai; and France, dear France, is too intellectually snobby. One of the best sentences, or thoughts, rather, in the book appears early on, on page twenty-two. Masson writes about "the loneliness of not being where you think you should be." Expanding this thought on the next page, he says "Maybe going home is only a metaphor, for all of us. Home might be nothing more than a feeling of being where we should be. I feel now that I am where I belong, and I would like to take the rest of this book to explain why."

This week was filled with book-buying, and it's not quite over yet. Rarely do I buy used books, and more rare is when I shop in a used books store. When there's something out of print that I need, I do the Abebooks thing. I found four cheap biographies the other day. They are: Change me into Zeus's daughter: A memoir, Finding fish: A memoir, Intertwined lives: Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and their circle, and a Winona Ryder thing that I don't' know quite how to describe, except to say that it was under three dollar, hardcover, and includes lots of glossy photographs. It was candy. I had to have it.

Then yesterday evening I had to find a copy of a book that I promised to a book reviewer. I misplaced the copy that JHUP sent and bought a replacement. While at B&N, I found several other things that I had to have. They were: One writer's beginnings by Eudora Welty; Glass castle by Jeannette Walls; Stuffed: Adventures of a restaurant family; and Appalachian folkways (the replacement).

Wednesday, May 11, 2005
and who made entries?

Say it ain't so: Encyclopedia entries are among the lowest form of secondary literature. After all, who reads encyclopedias for pleasure? Oh, the same ones who enjoy reading random dictionary pages. But wait, dictionaries are in the news today as well. The article is mostly about Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language.

A few days ago--one can never be quite sure--I gathered the stacks of books from my bedside table and moved them into the living room. Last night, I grabbed at least six other books to form another bedside table pile. It's a vicious cycle. However, I finished Liar's Club. It skipped the author's adolescence and adulthood but ended with her father's stroke when she was in her thirties. Guess I'll have to read Cherry to get those missing years. And, I almost started it last night, but didn't. I devour authors. I like Karr, and don't want to go through her too quickly. Otherwise, I'll have to wait years for something else of hers to come out. She has a few poetry books, but me and poetry...well, we don't mix. I don't understand it.

The new issue of Ploughshares then, was mostly poetry. I tried to read a few poems. Actually, some of the stories were not for me, either, although I enjoyed a few: "Mother" by Quang Bao; Alyson Hagy's "Border"; and "Sleepwalk" by Valerie Sayers.

How I got turned on to Amy Hempel, I'll never know, or remember. Before calling it a night, I read three or four of her stories from The dog of the marriage. I am not sure whether I liked the stories. Their tone is unlike anything I've read before. But, at least I'm curious, and am still reading the collection. I can't recall their titles, otherwise I would write a bit here about their themes.

The book that I brought along to work, that I hope to start at lunch is Slipping into paradise: Why I live in New Zealand. I've eyed it in bookstores for months and one of the libraries that I borrow from finally got around to ordering it. Inside are color photos of flora and fauna. The sheep are especially charming. How I long for sheep, goats, and chickens of my own.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005
M & M & M & ....

In today's news, Another bullshit night in suck city won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the "Art of the Memoir." It's touted as one of the best memoirs since Liar's Club, which I'm about halfway through at this point. The paperback is disarming. It seems rather thin and small, but it is not. The text on each page is dense. Finally, I'm reading about the day the author's mother went completely Nervous and was taken away to the local loony bin. Chapter Nine, which I'll start later today, is all about the family's move from "the anus of the planet," somewhere in east Texas, to Colorado. Karr's language is great. She uses phrases and euphemisms that are completely new to me. It's a fabulous book.

Did I mention how Frigid it is in my office today? It's between 63 and 66 outside, but probably 40-something inside. I exaggerate. It's likely in the mid-fifties. But enough about the weather, or rather, lack of interior climatic controls.

A friend and colleague loaned me Outlaw woman: A Memoir of the War Years, 1960-1975 yesterday. So while she's traveling by train through the Rockies, I'll be reading all about Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and the roles she played in the anti-war movement, the feminist movement, and Cell 16. And then there's the part about her "organizing and assisting anti-imperialist movements in Cuba, in Nicaragua, in South Africa, and around the world." Now that I know who she is, I wonder whether I'll enjoy her book. The problem that I for see is that I started her first memoir, Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie, but didn't finish it because... Can't remember now, but it's likely that I didn't like her style of writing or her tone. Who knows? Maybe I will make it through this one.

I'm still thinking about Another bullshit night in suck city. With all the praise that the author received, it makes me believe that unless one has a particularly tragic personal story to tell, then all memoir is fluff. But, it seems that the world is filled with tragedy, so there will always be award-winning memoirs. The other two memoirs that I have almost in the hopper are Name all of the animals and Hypocrite in a pouffy white dress. Both should be arriving at library circulation desks for me to check out, soon.

Monday, May 9, 2005
the M-word (that's memoir)

A bit about Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Ticker Creek at the Guardian.

This weekend I read Smashed: Story of a drunken girlhood. It's a memoir about the author's alcohol abuse from age 14 to twenty-something. In her introduction she wrote how typical her girlhood experiences were and that this is what made her story relevant in today's world. Her writing is good. There weren't any problems with structure or grammar to distract me from its content. I sank into her story quite easily. Parts were easy to relate to, because who doesn't binge drink in college? But, the girl overdoes it time and time again. She offers gender analysis of her behavior throughout the book as well as at its end. Overall, it was a good read. At times I felt sad for Zailckas with all the vomiting and blackouts and non-consensual sex and hangovers. That can't be fun.

Zailckas thanked Mary Karr in her acknowledgements and a light bulb appeared above my head. I grabbed the two Mary Karr books I have off of their shelf, and began the first one, Liar's Club. It is good. Karr's writing flows and her life story is interesting, although I was taken aback when I read that she was raped at age seven by a fourteen year old boy who lived in her neighborhood.

I have tons of books to read, and I cannot wait to have my way with them. And, it's almost summer. The sun shines, birds tweet, and the weather is perfect for taking a book along for a hike or a float in one's canoe. Hoo-rah!

The urge to type hoo-rah or hurrah is something that I fear I cannot control. I shall be more responsible with my fingers and stay away from what seems to be my new favorite word. Reminder: The old favorite word is smelt.

Friday, May 6, 2005
books that make you go aaaachoo

The second edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary was released. About 2,000 entries were added since the first edition came out in 2001.

This morning was rather fun. Several colleagues and I selected used books at the Greeneville Public Library's annual used book sale for our university library's paperback book exchange. They were mostly mass market paperbacks, but we got quite a few quality paperback books as well. I bought half a dozen westerns for my grandfather and a few things for myself. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek was one, and I got a Eudora Welty book and Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa. Oh, and I got a lovely little cookbook, though I cannot recall its title now.

Two other books that I started reading at different times in the day yesterday are: Against the grain: How agriculture hijacked civilization and Sweet charity?: emergency food and the end of entitlement. The latter seems alright, but the first, I'm not sure about. It's a bit over my head. The author begins with the evolution of man. Yes, man. Maybe it's humankind, I don't know, but he seems to take a very Biology is Destiny approach to things, and that annoys me. He's doing a lot of setting up, and I'm just not that interested in that, I want to get to the interesting stuff. But, you know, folks always need appropriate background. There was something else that ticked me off, maybe one particular passage, but I've forgotten it now.

Thursday, May 5, 2005
worms and other stories

Can of worms opened when publisher targeted female fiction readers over 45.

You learn something new everyday. Canada doesn't have a nationwide system for tracking book sales. But now they do.

Larry Baker tells his sad story of selling his book at grocery stores.

What else? Oh, reading. My three new knitting books arrived by mail a few days ago. I browsed them, but only one is fit for reading; the rest are patterns, etc. I have Essie Mae Washington-Williams's memoir of growing up Strom Thurmond's unacknowledged Black daughter.

I started a biography of Zora Neale Hurston last night. It is called Wrapped in rainbows and is quite good. The author is a great storyteller and knows how to craft a tale.

There were a few other books that I began, but haven't dipped back into. I read the first of Daphne Kalotay's collection of short stories Calamity. To be sure, I shall read more. While soaking in the bath the other evening I started Anthony Kiedis's Scar tissue. It's really thick. I'm not sure that I'll get to finish it because it's due at the library soon.

The new Alice Hoffman novel, Ice queen, is in bookstores. My public library has it, but it is still in process. I'm possibly first on the list for it. I like her more and more with each book that she writes. I absolutely loved Blackbird House, it's one of my all-time favorite books. The thrilling thing is that I'll get to read it immediately. I have no other reading obligations now! Hurrah.

Tuesday, May 3, 2005
super freaky

Resistance was futile. Freakonomics was the most fun book I've ever read about economics. I didn't read my economics book in college, and somehow managed to escape the class with a C from all the extra credit assignments I did. Who knew economics was at all interesting? My perception is that it's those folks who covet money and power who then study economics as a means of ascending to the top of the world, or something.

This book was fascinating. The authors claim that the reason that crime decreased substantially by the mid-1990s is because of Roe V. Wade in 1973. Apparently, all those future criminals, just weren't born. Which resonates with what was in the news today about the 13 year old girl in Florida who was almost denied an abortion. A particularly accurate quote from the state's gubnor was ''It's a tragedy that a 13-year-old girl would be in a vulnerable position where she could be made pregnant and it's a tragedy that her baby will be lost,'' Bush said in Tallahassee."

Given what I read in Freakonomics, children born to women under thirty are more likely to become criminals. Children born to older mothers are usually wanted, plus the mother has superior resources like education, economics, and social networks to draw from. There's still hope that I shall fulfill my destined life of crime, hurrah. Another interesting tidbit from the book concerns handguns and swimming pools. More children's deaths are caused by swimming pools each year than by handguns. It's simply a case of fear getting the best of parents. They find the idea of a swimming pool more comfortable than a gun. Violent shows on television and at the cinema inform their fear of guns. How many violent movies are there about swimming pools? And then, too, death by drowning is potentially less messy than bullets pummeling into bodies and blood spraying everywhere. Of course, most of us have gone swimming, but how many know our way around a 1911?

The bit on baby names was fascinating as well. The authors propose that baby names selected by the upper classes have a trickle-down effect over the next ten years. One decade's high class name becomes the next decade's middle-class name. An interesting theory, but then what accounts for all the really low class names that the authors include in the book? I doubt that upper class babies were never named Heaven, Angel, or Destiny. Therefore, some part of their theory must be wrong. I'm ambivalent about the book. The information was provocative. The writing was quite good and accessible to most all reading levels. And the authors' theories certainly get one's mind spinning. Who knows, they may breathe new life into the dull field of economics.

Monday, May 2, 2005
more trips to bookstores

I spent Friday in Asheville taking an old friend around the city. We walked a few blocks, ate great food, and shopped. I bought two books at Malaprop's: Write Away: One Novelist's Approach To Fiction and the Writing Life by Elizabeth George and Lonely Planet Guide To Travel Writing.

Then Saturday morning I went to the JCPL Friends' Book sale and bought four books for $7. Three were cookbooks from the 1940s, I can't recall their titles now, and the other was a memoir, Gal: A true life.

I hunted at two bookstores for the second in a trilogy of minotaur wars. It's a series that Ian is reading. I wasn't shopping for myself, and thus, didn't buy anything. I was so good, that I'm waiting for me prize. It will come in the mail. From my book clubs, I ordered three new knitting books: Loop-d-loop, For the love of knitting, and Stitch 'n' bitch nation. Then from another I made two orders last month. The first arrived and in it was: Callgirl, Inside Hitler's bunker, Friendship crises, and Necessary dreams. The one I'm waiting on includes BalleCore and Pay it down. It seems that I already own necessary dreams, so I may donate the newer copy, which is a paperback, to one of several libraries. Who shall be the lucky one?

I started Freakonomics last night, but didn't read much. I've been hesitant to read anything right now, to start anything for fun, because I have other reading to finish up so that I might complete my paper for my last class this semester. But then....well, they don't call me speedracer for nothing.






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